A PLAN to make Oxfordshire the first ‘smoke free’ county in England has been signed off.

The Oxfordshire Tobacco Strategy aims to reduce the prevalence of smoking in the county down from 10 per cent to five per cent by 2025.

As defined by the government, this would make Oxfordshire ‘smoke free’ because it would be so rare to see someone with a cigarette in hand.

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The government’s own target is to make England smoke free by 2030.

As the strategy was agreed, Oxfordshire’s Health Improvement Partnership Board acknowledge there had been some criticisms of it, with one person describing it as the overreach of the ‘nanny state’.

A report by the county council’s consultant in public health, Eunan O’Neill, said smoking was the highest cause of preventable illness in England.

His report said: “Every year in England more than 80,000 people die from smoking related diseases. This is more than the combined total of the next six causes of preventable deaths, including alcohol and drugs misuse. On average a smoker loses 10 years of life.”

In Oxfordshire, 2,132 people died from smoking related causes between 2015 and 2017.

In total, there are currently 54,804 smokers in the county, equating to 10.1 per cent of the population.

Mr O’Neill said the public had been asked for their opinions on the strategy when a draft was launched on March 11.

65 per cent of the people who took part supported the county’s plan, 31 per cent were against it and 5 per cent were neutral.

Some people, he said, had welcomed the plans, as they did not like breathing in second hand smoke or the illnesses it could lead to.

And others said that smoke free should mean that everyone gave up smoking, rather than five per cent of people.

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Meanwhile, there were those that complained about the strategy.

Some of these listed in Mr O’Neill’s report included that it was a ‘dictatorial, controlling’ approach from the nanny state.

Others said the council did not have the moral authority to tell them to stop smoking, and that it should concentrate of fixing potholes, reducing homelessness and providing social care.

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How the strategy works

For the strategy to work, it will require Oxfordshire council staff and health workers to work together.

There are four main areas the strategy will target to stop people smoking:

  • preventing people from starting through support schemes
  • strong regulation of tobacco, including doing more to stop illicit sales of cigarettes to children
  • creating more smoke-free environments
  • supporting existing smokers to quit

Coronavirus and smoking

The county’s director of public health, Ansaf Azhar, added there was clear evidence smoking was also likely to add to the risk of ‘severe illness’ from the coronavirus.

He added: “This is something as we go into recovery we need to highlight. It may be a good opportunity for people to give up smoking.”